UN General Assembly issues an important decision for Finland on the promotion of the participation of indigenous peoples
The recent decision taken by the UN General Assembly to promote the participation of indigenous peoples is an important step for the openness of the UN. The decision will promote the participation of representatives of indigenous peoples, like the Finnish Sámi Parliament, in UN meetings addressing matters affecting these peoples. Finland seeks to promote an open, committed UN. The decision that was taken will make the voice of indigenous peoples more audible in the UN system.
Finland’s Permanent Delegate to the UN, Ambassador Kai Sauer (right), has been one of the four advisers to Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly, and his predecessor Mogens Lykketoft, since March 2016 in the consulting process leading up to the decisions and in the intergovernmental negotiations that were initiated in May.
In its decision, the UN General Assembly encourages all UN bodies to make it possible for the representatives of indigenous peoples to participate in meetings that address matters affecting the peoples in question. The UN member states can seek to promote participation in ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) and the UN Human Rights Council, which regularly process matters concerning indigenous peoples and their rights.
As no consensus was reached this time concerning the participation of the representatives of indigenous peoples in the UN General Assembly meetings, the General Assembly decided to continue the discussion on additional measures in its 75th session, i.e. in 2020–2021.
It will also request the President of the General Assembly to organise unofficial hearings with indigenous peoples and the UN Secretary-General to provide reports on the topic prior to this date.
The consultations leading to the decision were open to indigenous peoples, and the opinions of indigenous peoples were heard by the advisers during the negotiations. Throughout the process, it has been the primary goal of the advisers to the President of the General Assembly, as it has for Finland as a nation, to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in the decision-making process and for the outcome to respect the views of indigenous peoples and the member states.
During the consultation process, the matters discussed included, for example, the possibility of a single member state to plead the Articles of the Charter of the United Nations with the intention of preventing a representative of certain indigenous people from participation in the UN. Another matter was whether indigenous peoples should be officially acknowledged
by the state in which they live. There were differing opinions presented in these questions.
The processing of the matter was based on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples that was organised as a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly in New York in the autumn 2014. In the conference, all the UN member states committed to considering the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in meetings of relevant United Nations bodies on issues affecting them.
The other three advisers to the President of the General Assembly are Ghana’s Permanent Delegate to the UN, Ambassador Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Professor James Anaya, and Dr. Claire Charters. Professor Anaya and Dr. Charters are also representatives appointed by indigenous peoples from North America and the Pacific Region.
The policy adopted by the UN to address the questions concerning the position and rights of the indigenous peoples in cooperation with the member states and indigenous peoples continues to strengthen with representatives appointed by indigenous peoples as advisers to the President of the General Assembly and extensive participation by indigenous peoples in the preparation process of the resolution.